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High schools in Hillsborough will have athletic trainers

Three organizations will provide trainers following the death of Middleton freshman Hezekiah Walters during the summer.
The parents of Hezekiah B. Walters appear with attorney Steve Yerrid at his law office in downtown Tampa on July 31. (OCTAVIO JONES | Times)
Published Aug. 13
Updated Aug. 14

TAMPA — In the aftermath of a student death following preseason football conditioning, Hillsborough County Superintendent Jeff Eakins said he wanted athletic trainers at all high schools.

Next Tuesday, the School Board will be asked to approve that step.

The district wants to hire certified trainers through three organizations: the University of South Florida SMART Institute, Select Physical Therapy, and PT Solutions Holdings LLC.

“Each school will have an athletic trainer year round,” says an item on the meeting agenda.

The funds needed to cover all the schools — $270,000 — will come from the district’s Safety and Risk Management budget.

RELATED: Parents of Hezekiah B. Walters seek full-time athletic trainers at Hillsborough schools

Eakins raised the issue after an investigation into the death on June 11 of Hezekiah Walters, a 14-year-old incoming freshman at Middleton High School.

Walters was participating in preseason conditioning drills in afternoon temperatures of over 90 degrees when he became overheated and collapsed. He was pronounced dead at St. Joseph’s Hospital. His body temperature was 102, according to the medical examiner.

A legal claim filed by Walters’ parents said the teen “had never participated in rigorous physical training and would need appropriate instruction, supervision and guidance while being gradually conditioned into team activities that only very experienced and prepared athletes are acclimatized to endure.”

RELATED: Superintendent: Safety protocols not followed before Middleton player’s death; two school officials removed

Immediately after Walters’ death, the district halted all summer workouts and athletic activities. Coaches were ordered to review all safety procedures. School staff had to check the records of all student-athletes; and every principal had to inform the district once these steps were completed.

An investigation into the tragedy revealed multiple lapses in procedure. Walters had not submitted documentation that he watched a district-required video on heat-related safety. His athletic physical form was missing.

The district transferred Middleton’s athletic director and football coach. Eakins announced his intention to hire trainers for all the high schools.

Speaking days later at a news conference, Walters’ parents and their attorney, Steve Yerrid, commended the steps Eakins has taken. Yerrid said the family’s decision on whether or not to sue will hinge, in part, on whether Eakins keeps his word and improves safety for student athletes. Specifically, they said they want all schools to have trainers.

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